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St Catherine’s $63m redevelopment plans proceed to NSW Planning assessment stage
- WENTWORTH COURIER
- JULY 08, 2015
ST CATHERINE’S School, Waverley, has declined an opportunity to include more on-site car parking spaces or to install a pick up/drop off zone in its controversial $63 million redevelopment.
Instead, the school has pushed ahead with the assessment process now controlled by NSW Planning, hoping several other concessions to its original plan will get it over the line.
In a report submitted to NSW Planning, St Catherine’s concessions include:
• The school would tweak the timetabling of events at the planned aquatic centre to encourage distribution of student arrival and departure times on campus;
• Staggered finish times for students in different school years would also be introduced;
• A range of behavioural and travel strategies, including carpooling and subsidised public transport for staff, would be introduced to reduce the use of private cars.
St Catherine’s plans to construct an aquatic centre and a 500-seat theatre as part of a staged redevelopment of its Albion St campus.
Aspects of the redevelopment, including its effect on traffic flow, bus services and on-street parking, are opposed by Waverley Council, Randwick City Council, Roads and Maritime Services and Transport for NSW, as well as local residents.
The school was given the opportunity to address concerns raised during the submission process, including Waverley Council’s suggestion more than 200 additional car spaces be added.
“St Catherine’s has reluctantly agreed to delete external events in the performing arts auditorium,” the report read.
Spokeswoman for the group Oppose St Catherine’s Expansion Cathy Davitt said she was disappointed by the school’s response.
“The report contains a lot of ifs and no substantial changes,” Ms Davitt said.
“There are no checks and balances in place and that’s the major issue.”
NSW private schools are diverting hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding into capital projects to build luxurious facilities including aquatic centres and performing arts centres instead of lowering fees, according to the Greens.
NSW Greens MP John Kaye said 62 elite schools had effectively diverted all of the $85 million in state government funding they received to build “extravagant” facilities to attract wealthy students.
An analysis of My School data showed only a third of the $270 million in combined public funds provided to the schools by the federal and state governments was spent on operations, Dr Kaye said.
Most ($189 million) was spent on capital works or repaying debts for past capital works, he said.
“This is public funds being used in an expensive and destructive arms race between exclusive private schools to lure in high net wealth families,” Dr Kaye said.
“Schools like St Catherine’s, MLC and SCEGGS Redlands are pouring all of the state funds that are supposed to support lower fees, into extravagant building projects,” Dr Kaye said.
St Catherine’s in Waverley has lodged a $62 million development proposal with the NSW Government to build a professional grade lyric theatre, research centre and aquatic centre.
Dr Kaye said the school already had a pool, and generated $26 million from fees and fundraising, but spent only $23 million on operations. He argued the $7.6 million a year spent on capital works and servicing debts for past building projects had been diverted from the school’s $4.5 million in government recurrent funding.
“Public education could spend the same money [$62.5 million] to purchase land and build high schools for at least 2000 students,” he said.
Dr Geoff Newcombe, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, said the Greens analysis was based on speculation.
“It is clear that parent contributions fund capital expenditure in independent schools as well as the vast majority of debt servicing costs. The Greens also fail to understand that servicing of debt is a legitimate use of recurrent funds,” Mr Newcombe said.
St Catherine’s headmistress Dr Julie Townsend said capital works were needed in all schools “regardless of them being independent, state or systemic”.
The St Catherine’s community was already raising funds to support the development project, she said.
“Our parents pay taxes to the government, and have the right to expect that some of those taxes are used to fund every school-age child, regardless of the school they choose,” she said.
“Many of our parents make significant sacrifices to their lifestyle to pay for a St Catherine’s education, and their school fees are used to improve our facilities. There are many parents in public schools who could afford an independent education for their children but choose to spend their income elsewhere.”
An MLC School spokeswoman said it was replacing ageing classrooms with modern facilities. The development wasn’t funded by the government, but by parent donations, modest borrowings and “prudent financial management over a number of years”.
A Redlands spokesman said: “All Redlands capital projects are funded from parent contributions and bank borrowings, as required.”
ST CATHERINE’S NEW PLAN LOW ON CAR SPOTS
ST CATHERINE’S School will not yet incorporate more parking into its master plan, despite Waverley Council’s calls for it to provide a minimum of 200 additional spaces.
Principal Julie Townsend said its $63 million application was now in the hands of the Department of Planning.
“Waverley Council is a stakeholder in this process and we welcome consideration of our development plans from all interested parties,’’ she said.
Dr Townsend said the school would “consider its response” once the State Government had made a decision.
“In the meantime we encourage our community to find accurate information about our plans by visiting our dedicated Research, Performing Arts and Aquatic Centre website.”
The comments to the Courier came just days after the council changed its submission to request the school provide a minimum of 200 additional car spaces.
It also wants the school to build a drop-off and pick-up area on site to reduce the traffic impact in the already congested area.
Residents claim the school has not listened to their concerns. They say finding onstreet parking is nearly impossible and parents constantly stopped in private driveways at the school’s starting and finishing times.
Despite this, the school has only allocated an additional 19 car spaces in its proposal, taking the total to 75.
Councillor Angela Burrill said there was already a traffic problem in the area.
“With any future development, we believe things should be improved, not made worse,’’ she said.
Resident Cathy Davitt was pleased the council had taken a firmer stance, but said the number of parking spaces should be doubled to at least 500.